Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, November 10, 2017

‘Humbling but exciting opportunity’

Roddy rises through the ranks to lead Chattanooga Police

Chattanooga Police Chief David Roddy says he’ll never forget his craziest moment during his 23 years with the department.

He’d responded to the scene of a rape and was consoling the victim when the suspect returned. A foot chase ensued, during which the man led Roddy through a nearby house – much to the surprise of the people who lived there.

“It was like a scene in a movie,” he remembers. “They were in their living room watching television when we tore through their home. They looked shocked.”

The pursuit continued into a wooded area. When the suspect finally realized he wasn’t going to outrun his shadow, he approached a pair of Roddy’s fellow officers and begged them to take him to jail.

For all of its stranger-than-fiction qualities, the incident demonstrated Roddy’s ability to pursue and capture a slippery target. Although his days of patrolling the streets and responding to such calls are behind him, his career in law enforcement is far from over. Rather, a new and more elusive task lies ahead of him: leading a police department that’s facing several significant challenges – not the least of which is putting a lid on gun violence in the city.

Roddy, who was sworn in Aug. 31, looks undaunted. After more than two decades of serving the police department and the people of Chattanooga in various capacities, he’s ready.

“This department has had a positive impact on me,” Roddy, 46, says. “It’s exposed me to many different perspectives and cultures and allowed me to use that experience to help people. To now use what I’ve learned to the benefit of 500 officers and almost 180,000 citizens is a humbling but exciting opportunity.”

Up the ladder

Sitting at the desk occupied by his predecessors and flanked by American and Tennessee flags, Roddy looks ready for the mantle of leadership. But it won’t be an easy burden to bear, says criminal defense attorney Lee Davis, who has followed Roddy’s career.

“These are challenging times,” Davis says. “There’s an unacceptable level of gun violence in Chattanooga that comes from predictable sources – the breakdown of the family, inadequate supervision of the young men in the city and the availability of weapons in the hands of people who would sooner shoot you than talk with you. David’s challenge is figuring out how to penetrate that.”

Davis adds Roddy’s deep experience with the department and community will work in his favor. Roddy began his career in law enforcement as a midnight shift officer in East Chattanooga, where he was quickly seasoned and drew wisdom and knowledge from the senior officers with whom he was partnered.

From there, Roddy became an investigator with the first gang task force in Chattanooga. That unit eventually added narcotics and vice.

After a few years with the department, Roddy tested the waters of leadership when he was promoted to sergeant and became a midnight shift patrol supervisor in Highland Park. He says he loved building and molding the small unit.

“That’s the best job in the police department. I loved it. You’re mom or dad to a group of officers,” he says. “You celebrate their victories with them and lament their trip-ups. The personal connection you develop with them stays with you.”

Roddy continued his steady climb when he was promoted to SWAT commander. This, too, was satisfying to the now-weathered officer, who guided the group to a pair of national SWAT championships. “The training it took to compete at that level and the exposure to teams from bigger cities with more operational experience than we had increased our ability to protect Chattanooga,” he recalls.

After briefly leading another red-eye crew, Roddy was bumped to lieutenant in charge of a special operations division that included SWAT, hostage negotiation, the bomb squad and more. He continued to run the team after making captain.

While a captain, Roddy also led a patrol sector and then ran the department’s internal affairs division. His police chief, Fred Fletcher, then promoted him to chief of staff in 2014.

Next stop: head of the department after Fletcher’s departure this year. Roddy says he applied for the position in the hopes of broadening the scope of his leadership.

“I’ve felt the personal satisfaction of seeing officers I helped to shape change the trajectory of someone’s life,” he adds. “To be able to help 500 individuals do that on a daily basis is very fulfilling.”

In one of Roddy’s first major acts as the new head of the department, he promoted several of the officers he’s worked with over the years to his executive staff. He also announced that Edwin McPherson, who’d also vied for the position of chief and received the endorsement of the local NAACP, would continue to serve as assistant chief of investigations.

Davis saw the promotions as a sign that Roddy wants to move the department forward by drawing on its strengths.

“Chattanooga is fortunate to have strong leadership at its police department,” he explains. “I believe David sees that because he chose people who were competing for the job of chief to serve beside him.”

This in turn gives Davis hope that the department is qualified to tackle the issue of gun violence head-on. “There must be a reduction of gun violence in the city,” he insists. “If we don’t embrace that, it will have social and economic repercussions. It will impact the safety and security of the people who live here and our potential to develop businesses, build homes and increase property values.

“David and the team he’s assembled are qualified to address that problem.”

Beyond gun violence

Roddy knows gun violence is a problem in Chattanooga. He also realizes the department must curtail it. But as he steps up to the position of chief and then back to take in a broader view of the city, he sees other problems that are equally pressing for certain segments of the population.

“You can go to different parts of the city, and people will express different concerns. You can go downtown and it’s panhandling, then you can go into a neighborhood off Highway 58 and it’s speeders doing 80 miles per hour where kids are playing in the yards, and then you can go into other parts of Chattanooga and it’s the shootings,” he says. “So we give the executive and command staff the ability to determine with the members of the community the issues that are most pressing to them and then we design a plan to deal with them.

“We can’t become so myopic we only look at violence,” Roddy continues. “We have a responsibility to hold to our mission for 180,000 people, and they don’t all have the same perspective.”

To deal with these and other issues, Roddy will utilize strategies and tools implemented by his predecessors. These include what he calls the three pillars of law enforcement for the department: focused deterrence, problem-solving policing and intelligence-led policing.

Focused deterrence involves using a finite number of resources and applying it to the small number of individuals driving crime, Roddy says. “A small percentage of the population of this city is committing a disproportionate number of its violent crimes - .04 percent of our population commits as much as 65 to 70 percent of our violent crimes. So, focused deterrence involves identifying those individuals and then using that intelligence to intercept them as they begin to commit a violent act.”

The same tactic can be used to improve the effectiveness of location-based investigations, Roddy adds. By identifying the hotspots for criminal activity in the city, the department can then re-engineer the environments to lower their propensity to be involved in those crimes. Something as simple as increasing the lighting, cutting back shrubs and installing speed bumps can go a long way toward achieving that goal.

Focus deterrence can even be applied to victims, Roddy says, through education, support and removing them from harmful circumstances.

In contrast to Davis’ estimation of the amount of gunplay in the city, Roddy claims focused deterrence has taken a bite out of violent crime. “Our homicides and shootings are down over the last three years.”

The second pillar of law enforcement in Chattanooga – problem-solving policing – involves conversations between a community and the police officers charged with protecting them to determine what needs to be addressed in that area.

“In the original advent of problem-solving policing in Chattanooga, we’d go in, identify a problem and apply non-typical remedies. That was great except we didn’t always involve the members of the community in the process,” Roddy acknowledges. “So we had a police officer going in and saying, ‘Your problems are A, B and C, and here’s how we’re going to fix them.’ That often left the members of the community feeling disconnected because those things weren’t important to them.

“Problem-solving policing involves having conversations with the community that not only identify the problems but also lead to solutions.”

The newest pillar of the department is intelligence-led policing, which entails bringing data analysis and the department’s new technologies (the street-level camera system, the real-time intelligence center and the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network, among others) to bear on certain offenders and addressing the problems the community says are the most pressing.

“Our goal is to expand and strengthen these pillars,” Roddy  says.

While Davis says Roddy can move the police department and community forward, Kevin Adams Sr., senior pastor of Olivet Baptist Church, is concerned Roddy might be lacking in one important area: community relations.

A long-time resident of Chattanooga and pastor of Olivet for nearly three decades, Adams has seen several police chiefs come through the department, including Chattanooga’s first black chief, Ralph Cothran, who ascended to the position in 1989. The unifying quality among these men was their willingness to engage the leaders of the community – including its pastors.

“They would sit in this office and talk about their concerns,” Adams says.

Adams adds the relationships between the department and the community went deeper, with detectives like Frank Newson (one of Chattanooga’s first black police officers) and Napoleon Williams (Chattanooga State’s first black chief of police) developing relationships with members of the community –  to the point of sitting down with them at backyard barbecues and eating hotdogs.

When a crime occurred, they were then able to return to the neighborhood and obtain the information they needed because they had relationships with those who lived there.

Adams says that depth of involvement is more critical than ever. “Some of the gangs in this city have 16-, 17- and 18-year-old kids in them,” Adams points out. “When you’ve developed relationships with the citizens and leaders of a community, people are more apt to talk with you than when you just show up when something happens.”

Roddy has been no stranger to the city since becoming chief. He attended the Latin Festival in Highland Park in May, appeared at the local NAACP awards in October and spoke at the Rotary Club of Chattanooga Hamilton Place last month as well, among other engagements.

Yet Adams would like to see more community involvement from the department as a whole and improved relations between primarily black neighborhoods and the police. He says one thing that would help would be a greater degree of diversity at the department.

Currently, black officers make up 16.6 percent of Chattanooga’s police force, according to the department. That number needs to be higher, Adams says.

“There have been shootings where all I see are white officers,” Adams says. “There’s a black kid in the street dead and I see nine or ten officers around him and the community standing back.

“There’s friction nationwide between communities and law enforcement. The only way to bridge the gap is to build relationships.”

Crucial relationship

Roddy says he’s spent 46 years building relationships in Chattanooga and is continuing to create ties.

“I rarely go a few days without running into someone I’ve known for a long time either through a personal relationship or from being a police officer,” Roddy says. “Knowing people around the community and working with different officers over the course of my career has given me a progressive, long-standing relationship with various parts of the city and this department. That goes a long way when I have a conversation with folks.”

Roddy notes his most vital relationship, though, is the one he’s developed with his wife.

As a goal-oriented individual, Roddy admits to sometimes losing sight of the people around him when he’s hell-bent on finishing a task. His wife will serve as the voice in his ear focusing his attention on the individuals and the relationships he needs to foster.

“Shannon and I have known each other since I was a new officer, so she’s grown as much in this career as I have,” Roddy says. “When I become too focused on achieving the results I want, she’ll be the empathetic conscience that reminds me how much people are a part of what we do.”

Shannon is also there when Roddy needs to share his thoughts and feelings about an event at work or the effect of being frequently exposed to people who aren’t engaging in the best behavior. When a victim, or officer, or the city as a whole suffers a loss, it still hits him hard. And now that he’s chief, his greatest concern is making sure his officers make it to the end of their shifts. This concern stays with him every hour of every day as one shift ends and another begins.

Shannon walks with him through those moments.

“She’s experienced everything I’ve experienced. That helps you get through 20 years of marriage,” Roddy says. “You can’t be a stoic individual who shuts out the world. You have to share. And she’s been with me every step of the way.”

But Roddy knows he’s more than a police officer; he’s also a husband and a father to two daughters who are “extremely supportive of daddy’s career.” So, he’s taped a reminder of that fact to the door that leads from his garage to the inside of his house. It says, “Give this home 90 seconds.”

“For the first 90 seconds after I walk into my house, I don’t talk about my job. We’ll get to the stories as the night goes on, but when I enter my home, I’m a husband and a father first.”

The birth of a police officer

Roddy can trace his desire to become a police officer to his elementary school days, when he attended DuPont Elementary and Bess T. Shepherd Elementary. As he saw kids being bullied, he realized they needed someone to stand up for them, only no one did.

Roddy’s concerns about this developed over time and he began to think about the law in general. At the forefront of his thoughts were the meaning of laws and how society creates and upholds them.

An uncle who was a federal law enforcement officer also influenced Roddy as he considered what he would someday do professionally. “Watching him and absorbing his stories helped me to appreciate that law enforcement was a career; it wasn’t all Bruce Willis and “Adam-12,’” Roddy recalls. “He made it personal.”

By the time Roddy arrived on the campus of MTSU, he’d decided he was going to become a lawyer. But he realized as he encountered police officers in his classes, forged friendships with them and participated in ride-alongs that law enforcement was more in line with his personality.

Roddy applied to the police departments of several municipalities, but upon returning to Chattanooga after college, he realized he needed to be at home. “When I started the academy, I had cadet mates from high school,” he says. “That gave me a sense of duty.”

Roddy carried that sense of duty with him through the years as he experienced the highs and lows of being a police officer. The lows included being involved in two shootings that resulted in the deaths of the perpetrators. He says he would never wish that on any officer but that it was necessary in those situations.

The highs included leading a group of officers through the woods of Apison the night of April 27, 2011, when tornadoes killed 81 people in the Chattanooga region.

Roddy acted as crew foreman as 20 officers used chainsaws to cut paths through the woods to find and evacuate the wounded. They eventually located a house a twister had demolished, resulting in multiple deaths. In the rubble, they also found an 11-year-old boy alive and were able to save him.

Roddy and the others received an award for their actions.

“That night was satisfying, not because of what I did but because I was there to witness the selflessness of 20 other officers – all from different walks of life, all raised differently but all from this PD and giving of themselves in the same way.

“They did what needed to be done that night without question. Even when they could hear and feel the tornado on the ground, they never even stopped the chainsaws because we had wounded. That was humbling to witness.”

Roddy says the best way to lead the force is to “give them the resources and support that will enable them to do the great things we know they can do and then get out of their way.

“The chiefs aren’t standing next to them when they do something that makes the news. That’s 100 percent them. The most important part of my job is remembering that,” Roddy says.

Another date stands out in Roddy’s memory as prominently as April 17: July 16, 2015, when a terrorist killed four Marines at the U.S. Navy Reserve Center.

Although he was vacationing with his family at the time, the events of that day are imprinted in his mind. But instead of worrying about the next infamous date in Chattanooga’s history, he rests in the confidence that the department he’s leading is ready for whatever happens.

“We were prepared for July 16,” he says. “Our active shooter training began post-Columbine. In law enforcement, you study the thing that’s happened – the Sandy Hooks, the Virginia Techs and the Fort Hoods – and then figure out what you need to make that go in a different direction, whether it’s training, equipment or operational staff. And then you prepare your organization and community for it.”

Roddy knows working on the challenges that face Chattanooga today and preparing for the crises of tomorrow will take more than “training, equipment or operational staff.” It will require boots on the ground in the neighborhoods and police officers using the tightly-knit ties they’ve formed with the community in a way that ensures everyone’s safety.

For that reason, Adams is willing to give Roddy a chance.

“A lot of people were pulling for McPherson because of his long presence in the community,” Adams says. “But Roddy is chief now, so we have to believe he’s going to be the one. He needs our full support and that’s what I’m going to give him.”

Davis says Roddy is the one to lead the department into the future – not just due to his connections with the community, or his willingness to evolve the three pillars of law enforcement in the city, or his ability to reduce gun violence in the city, but because of the kind of person he is.

“He reminds me of (former Police Chief) Steve Parks in that he’s seen by his peers and the people of this community as a man of his word and a decent and honorable person,” Davis says. “Because of this, people will trust him and listen to his ideas.”